Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lets Talk About Feminism

Feminist Germaine Greer, May 7, 1971

Feminist Germaine Greer, May 7, 1971 Photographic Print
Merritt III
11 in. x 14 in.

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Framed   Mounted

What is feminism? When it first dawned on Betty Friedan that something was wrong with the role of women in society, she was not incorrect. Nor, of course, was she the first in history to notice, or the first to hit on an inadequate solution. The problem, as she articulated it, was the discontent of the average suburban housewife with a role perceived as smothering and unfulfilling, inferior and therefore unfair. Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was printed in the early 1960s and is considered the precursor to the so-called second wave of feminism, the first having been the suffrage movement begun the previous century.

While controversy surrounds Friedan’s claim that she spent 20 years as a bored housewife, and that this caused her to become a feminist, it is fair to acknowledge that there were a number of bored housewives in her generation and in the generations before hers. Whether they pursued feminism in any of its many forms as a result, or if not, why not, are questions worthy of pursuit.

Bored or not, however, housewives over the centuries have been the subject of many attempted solutions to the problem of establishing women’s role once and for all. To some the answer is a matriarchal society and the elimination of male violence, under the assumption that violence is a particularly male attribute. To others it is the complete subjugation and humiliation of women in order to “keep them in their place.” The treatment of women under Afghanistan’s Taliban regime is a reminder that even in modern times the pendulum can swing widely.

Generally, though, most in the West agree that men and women should be treated as equals and have equal value in the social order. But even that is open to many interpretations. Some modern feminists are pursuing what they refer to as “complementarity”—that is, equivalence that acknowledges sexual differences. Others suggest that such a concept actually threatens the equality that feminists have worked so hard for.

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